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Lesson Transcript

Sample Script:
German Teachers Answer Your Questions - Lesson #6 - Is the German Alphabet the Same as English?


Michael: Is the German alphabet the same as English?
Igor: And what are the differences?
Michael: At GermanPod101.com, we hear these questions often.
Imagine the following situation: Barbara “Babsi”
Bauer (@target-kid), a
kindergarten student, is studying the alphabet with her mum, Beathe Bauer
(@target-mom). She sees an unfamiliar letter and asks,
"What letter is that?"
Barbara "Babsi" Bauer: Was ist das für ein Buchstabe?
Barbara "Babsi" Bauer: Was ist das für ein Buchstabe?
Beathe Bauer: Das ist ein ö.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Barbara "Babsi" Bauer: Was ist das für ein Buchstabe?
Michael: "What letter is that?"
Beathe Bauer: Das ist ein ö.
Michael: "It's ö."

Lesson focus

Michael: The German language uses the Latin alphabet plus 3 additional vowels with diacritics above, which changes their usual pronunciation. The vowels with diacritics are called
Igor: Umlaute
Michael: The one you heard in the dialogue is
Igor: Ö
Michael: It’s actually just an “O” with two points above. Other vowels with diacritics in German are
Igor: Ä und Ü
Michael: Which looks like an “A” and a “U” with two dots above.Additionally there is one more unique letter called the sharp-S or in German,
Igor: ß [EssZett]
Michael: Which is always used in front of long vowels and is read as
Igor: ß [SS]
Michael: Like in the word
Igor: Straße.
Michael: It’s not easy to specify how many letters the German alphabet consists of. Some sources refer to 27 letters, or
Igor: Buchstaben
Michael: the 26 basic letters of the Latin alphabet or
Igor Lateinisches Alphabet
Michael: and the sharp-S, stating that vowels with diacritics shouldn’t be counted as additional letters. Other people count the three diacritic vowels as a part of the alphabet excluding the sharp-S making it 29 letters long. There are also people counting all of them as a part of the German alphabet giving us the number of 30 letters. We will stick to the last option counting 21 "consonants," or
Igor: Konsonanten
Michael: Five vowels which in German is
Igor: Vokale
Michael: three vowels with diacritics, or
Igor: Umlaute
Michael: And the sharp-S
Igor: ß [EssZett]
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: Actually many people are confused about the usage of the sharp-S in German. In 1996, there was a major
Igor: Rechtschreibreform
Michael: Or an “orthography reform” in Germany. This reform reduced the usage of the sharp-S to the rules we have today. Before, words like
Igor: Russland, Kuss, dass, muss
Michael: Were written with a sharp-S at the end. Today people who learned writing before 1996, when the major reform took place, might still use this letter in a way that, by today’s standards, is considered incorrect.
This reform was criticized by the majority of the German-speaking population, and especially honorable authors such as
Igor: Günther Grass
MICHAEL: or established newspapers like the
Igor: die FAZ oder Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
MICHAEL: Tried to stop the Council of German Orthography from implementing those changes, which succeeded in a follow-up reform in 2006 that reversed most of the controversial changes in the language. Before 2017 there was no possibility to capitalize the
Igor: ß [Eszett]
Michael: But an actualization of the reform from 2017 brought a capitalized
Igor: Scharfes-S
Michael: Into the German language. Before this, every time a word involving the sharp-S had to be spelled in capital letters, for example in official documents, the sharp-S got converted into a double-S. This became problematic when the original word had to be reconstructed. So if we take the German family name
Igor: Voß
MICHAEL HILLIARD: Which exists in two forms, spelled with an eszett at the end, and with a double-S, we will spell both with a double SS in capital letters. It’s impossible to guess what the original name looked like. For that case, the capital Eszett was brought into the German language. But to be honest, you won’t have to deal with this letter too often. It exists mainly to patch a minor issue the German language had until 2006. You won’t even find a capital eszett on the German computer keyboard.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We’re here to answer them!
Igor: Tschüsschen!
Michael: See you soon!

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